Smoke rises up from the shallow stage finds its way to the disco ball slowly circling above. On the left wall, a projector plays collaged images of old Popscene shows; on the right, a DJ that doesn’t look younger than 40 plays generic dance tracks, sprinkling in classic songs like The Knife’s “Heartbeats” every once in awhile. Behind me, the bar proves itself to be the most bustling area of the venue, serving $12 drinks including a “Purple Drink,” concocted especially for tonight’s performance. I look around to see a group of girls walk into the venue screaming, “Welcome to fucking Grapeland!”
When Terror Jr. first popped on the scene at the end of March 2016, no one was really sure what to expect. They didn’t seem to exist before their breakout song “3 Strikes” was featured in the trailer for Kylie Jenner’s lip gloss line. And after countless comments from people wondering who this band was, a single secretive tweet was posted: “Born.”
— aka campa (@davidsingervine) April 3, 2016
The band continued to act in secrecy, releasing very little information about the group, which consists of producing team Felix Snow and David “Campa” Singer-Vine, and a lead singer known simply as “Lisa.” Lisa’s identity stayed hidden for almost a year and half, and rumors swirled around as to who she was – everyone from Kiiara (whom Snow and Singer-Vine had worked together with before) to even Kylie Jenner herself (although that theory didn’t really have two legs to stand on) was thought to be Terror Jr’s frontwoman. With each single they dropped, each mysterious tweet they posted, each image they released, the more curious and invested their fans got. What was this band? What were they doing? Singer-Vine at one point said that Terror Jr was a “social experiment” and that each song was a piece of the puzzle waiting to be solved.
The cult following of the group ensured that people from all over packed the Rickshaw Stop that Friday night. “There’s no way I would’ve missed this,” a girl waiting in line for the venue told me. “I mean, it’s their first live show of their first tour ever, I’d be a fucking idiot to miss out on this.” Another drove from Sacramento for this show (“I had someone watch my dogs for this, I really came down for this show”); someone even flew all the way from Bali just to see Lisa live. These diehard fans, though, were juxtaposed with groups of people who had never even heard of the band before, who were just there to do something on a Friday night. The venue gave off strong club vibes depending on where you were standing; if you were more than three rows behind the stage the sound of chatter at people at the bar almost overshadowed Lisa’s vocals. True, it was the band’s first ever show, and to have a sold-out venue and die-hard fans lining up for you for hours seems like the ultimate dream for a new band; but the show itself held the same characteristics of many debut shows of new bands, fans mouthing every lyric to every song better than the lead singer standing next to people who just showed up to maybe go home with someone that night. Since their first show happened to be in the Bay, where Singer-Vine is from, the crowd also seemed to hold six degrees of separation against him; one girl in the crowd told me she was only here because a “friend of the friend is in the band,” while another couple guys were screaming “that guy’s my neighbor!!” throughout the set. In 2008 he graced this same stage with his then musical partner Niles Hollowell-Dhar (KSHMR) as The Cataracs, a show that SFWeekly then claimed was “the embodiment of an MTV reality show.”
But less than ten years later, the venue seemed to capture the vibe of what someone described as “if a frat had an alumni party.” The crowd was a mix of men with receding hairlines getting maybe a little too excited to be there and groups of girls barely 21 screaming for more drinks and more dancing and more songs. There were drunk girls in the bathroom complimenting each other and guys at the bar trying to hit on every girl in sight – almost too frat party-esque.
After a brief opening set by Kid Froopy, who has collaborated with the band with songs like “Do or Die” and a remix of “Come First,” pink and purple smoke filled the venue as Lisa started crooning the words out to their hit single “Caramel.” The song, like many of theirs, only added an air of mystery to this band: a pop group making songs that were so politically vocal (“If my skin was any darker they’d be spilling my blood/But I don’t need to swallow my drugs”). While the identity of Lisa was revealed at the end of September as Michigan singer Lisa Vitale, there are still so many questions unanswered. Their management even let me know that the band isn’t conducting interviews with anyone for the time being.
Vitale, for one, used to be in the reggae-rock band the Orange Marsupials, who, unfortunately, didn’t make it too big. After moving on from the band, she was set to release her debut pop EP Love/Hate – which never saw the light of day. Instead, her YouTube channel was purged, except for a single cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” (last November Vitale actually released a version of this song with Singer-Vine’s old Cataracs bandmate KSHMR). She had disappeared from the world – there were even rumors floating around that she had died.
Fast forward to Friday night – the first show of Terror Jr. as a band, sure, but not for any of the members. Lisa carried herself with a strong stage presence but, even still, one could tell she was a little nervous (and who wouldn’t be?). The group played their set straight through, with the only words she spoke were a timid: “This is the best first show ever.” After playing thirteen songs, including hits like “Heartbreaks” and “Sugar,” the lights dimmed a little more and the stage was empty, but the crowd seemed confused. Was the show over? Would someone come out next? No one was yelling for an encore, no one was leaving the venue, everyone just stood there, with the people in the back continuing their conversations as nothing happened.
The two song encore set seemed more lively than the entire show, featuring songs from their newest release Bop City 3: The Girl Who Cried Purple (2017). Although the crowd seemed more into it at this point, it was far from perfect – Singer-Vine stood at his microphone on stage telling the audience to jump but no one moved from their spots; he screamed at everyone to “turn the fuck up!” but the energy remained almost stilted. And in all honesty, this was probably just side effects from the venue; I imagined how this same set would have gone down at somewhere like the Social Hall or Bottom of the Hill.
But despite all the things we don’t know about the group, it can’t be disputed that they work hard: for only existing for about a year and a half, Terror Jr. has already released three albums, worked with artists like Lil B and Father, and even briefly got into some Twitter beef with Fifth Harmony. And with the rest of their tour almost sold out, as well as being on the lineup for Camp Flog Gnaw at the end of the month, there’s no slowing down for them.
At the end of the night, walking past people hurriedly closing their bar tabs and trying to find their Ubers, I thought about what someone had said about Terror Jr. before, “I just want to listen to something that means something.” Isn’t that what the point of this band, social experiment, whatever you want to call it – isn’t it to create some sort of meaning in a world that sometimes feels like there isn’t enough? If nothing else, their anthems have given at least the crowd at the Rickshaw Stop some hope: “I don’t think we’ll ever be okay/and baby, that’s okay.”
Written by Leka Gopal